The Wolf of Wasatch

Think fast, Destiny. He can’t be more than a hundred feet away.

I could keep the rifle and try to force him to take me to a hospital. But I don’t know how to use a gun; I don’t even know how to hold a gun. Even if I managed to shoot him before he came into the tent, I’d be killing my ticket off this mountain. I push the rifle back into its clips on the bottom of the chest.

Still, I need to protect myself. After seeing all this, I know Waters can’t be trusted. I pick up the ivory-handled pocketknife with the initials S.A.W. carved into the blade and turn it in my hands. It’s small enough to conceal. That’s good. But I’m not confident I could take Waters down with a two-inch blade if I had to. He’s so much larger than I am, and with my leg—

Waters’ boots crunch through the snow just outside the tent.

I’ll take my chances with the knife. I’d rather avoid a fight in my condition, but if Waters turns out to be the man I think he is, I’ll need it sooner or later. I slide the folded knife into my pocket.

I replace the wooden panel over the hidden compartment and toss in the newspaper clippings, the magazines, and the journal. I can’t afford to be precise; he’ll be here any second. I stuff the half-folded blankets over the stash and lower the chest’s lid. Then I start scooting back to my cot in an awkward, one-legged crab crawl.

Shit! I’ve left Teen Vogue lying on the floor by the chest.

Waters’ silhouette darkens the tent’s entrance. There’s no time. I lunge for the magazine, landing squarely on my injured thigh. I feel the wound tear open and hear a dull pop. I muffle a scream with one hand, and with the other, I snatch up the magazine.

The tent zipper slides up. I lift myself onto the cot, positioning the magazine under me, and assume a half-reclining pose as Waters parts the flaps with the barrel of his rifle and steps inside.

He stops on the welcome mat to stomp the snow from his boots, shaking his head like a dog, sending white powder scattering to the floor. The Wolf of Wasatch. The news got it right with that title.

Under one arm, he’s carrying a bundle of sticks and chopped wood. He kneels in front of the stove and drops the bundle into a heap. On some of the wood, I can see fragments of what looks like a bloody handprint. Waters sees them, too. He lays down his rifle and peels off his gloves. Then he stacks the wood so the bloodied sides don’t show.

“Got a rabbit,” he says, in his usual, nearly unintelligible growl.

Unless he’s got it stuffed down his pants, there ain’t no rabbit.

But for once I keep my mouth shut. He’d know something was wrong if I spoke. The gash in my leg refuses to be ignored, sending tremors of pain through my entire body, and I’m still out of breath after retreating to my cot. I need to regain my composure. I roll onto my left hip, trying to relieve the pressure on my leg. To my horror, Teen Vogue crinkles under me.

Waters lapses into one of his coughing fits at that moment and doesn’t seem to notice. He wipes the phlegm from his mouth with a muddy sleeve. God, he even smells like a dog. I wonder if abandoning social mores is a backwoodsman thing or a psycho murderer thing. Maybe it’s both.

He looks up at me for the first time since he arrived, probably confused with my unusual silence. There’s so much sorrow and pain in his eyes. I could almost pity him. Almost. Pity, I reserve for decent human beings. True, I don’t meet many in Hollywood—everyone’s got an angle, some advantage to gain—but I’m pretty good at picking them out. My dad? Decent. My agent? Not so much. Waters? The contents of the chest made it perfectly clear.

I force a smile for Waters. Mixed with the pain, I’m sure it comes off more like a grimace, but it’s all I can manage. The smile he returns to me is both kind and concerned, the sort of smile my dad gave me when I told him I landed my first audition. Waters would’ve made a decent actor himself.

Front all you want, Waters. I’ve got your number now. I run a hand over the small lump in my pocket. The knife isn’t much compared to his rifle, but it’s enough to give me hope.

Then a violent gust of wind shakes the tent, making me jump. I watch the center pole sway, holding my breath until the wind passes and the tent settles. Then I let out a sigh.

Looking back at Waters, I can see that something is very wrong. His smile has vanished. His eyes are wide and trembling. Suddenly, he spins around like he’s just realized where he is. He looks at the side table, at his bed, at the stack of black bins… My stomach rises into my throat.

I make my own quick assessment of the tent, trying to see if I’d left anything out of place. As far as I can tell, it all looks the same as Waters left it. The only thing I really disturbed was the chest. It’s closed, and there’s no more magazines or anything else lying around that could tip him off. No, there’s no way he could—

Waters whips his head toward the chest and stares at it. My heart beats like a Questlove drum solo. Three seconds pass. Can a sixteen-year-old die of a heart attack? Six seconds. Nine.

He knows.






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